Today I’m extremely happy to be bringing you an interview with another great icon designer — Andrei Stefan. We’re collaborating together to bring you the in-depth course on creating pixel-perfect icons. This topic is without a doubt one of my most requested, so it definitely deserves a comprehensive course that will help you take your icon design skills to the whole other level. It will cover everything you need to know to create stunning pixel-perfect icons and illustrations. But more on that in the nearest future.
Andrei is one of those rare people that have come to realize that life is too short to spend it chasing corporate dream jobs. Instead, he chose a path that has led him to something entirely different.
With the background in social sciences but a keen interest in everything that revolves around visual art, he soon realized that he could get the best of both worlds. This gave him a unique opportunity to do something both meaningful and enjoyable.
A lot more can be said about this great icon designer, but without further ado, let’s jump straight into the interview!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you? Where do you come from?
Hi, I’m Andrew, and I’m freelance illustrator / icon designer born and raised in Romania with a strong fondness for coffee.
How did you get started with icon design?
Well, that’s kind of a funny story. When I was about 16 years old, my dad kept nagging me that I was wasting way too much time on the PC playing video games – and now that I look back he was probably right – I could have been doing something creative and productive, like learning to code. At that time, the younger me didn’t give too much thought to the old man’s advice, but when I was in my senior year of high school, I started doing graffiti which kind of set off a spark, a creative one – or at least I like to think of it like that, because my mom freaking hated it. I was constantly drawing and learning how to adapt my letters to different styles, which I guess in the end turned out to become my gateway drug to the whole “let’s be creative” side of life.
This went on until my second year of university, when a colleague of mine asked me why I had chosen to study social sciences instead of applying to an Art School, since he thought that my scribblings were actually good. My immediate answer was: “Nah, it’s too late, if I were to go down that path I should have done it years ago…”. Now that I look back, I think that somehow that question had been sitting with me for a long time, buried deep inside the back of my head, until my last year, when I realized that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
So there I was, a fresh graduate with tons of time to spear but nothing to “kill” it on, so I did what any foolish teenager would do and got a job working at a local Call Center. Bad idea, I hated it. I mean really, really hated it. So normally I started looking for solutions that could give me a way out, and that’s when I noticed that one of my friends – V. – was creating all this crazy stuff inside a program called “Illustrator”. Needless to say, I was immediately hooked. I quit my job, bought a new computer, and started learning the basics.
I remember that at first, I kept asking him, “How do you do this?” until I decided that if I wanted to get better I had to go wild with it and learn everything by myself.
I started doing logos. But let’s be honest, everybody wants to design and create brands, so I shortly realized that it wasn’t for me. Then, one day V. told me about this creative website – Dribbble – where designers shared their work and stuff, and I remember that I saw some skeuomorphic icons, and I said to myself that was what I wanted to do.
Fast forward until today, and well I’m still at it 6 or so years later.
Why icons? What is it about them that is so appealing to you that you’ve chosen icons over, say, logo design?
Well, back in the day, icons were seen as visual symbols meant to help users figure out what certain buttons did within an OS or a piece of software. Today, however, they’ve become more than that, since they’ve developed into fully fledged illustrations cramped inside a very small surface, which I guess makes them the perfect medium to learn how to express and grow your creative mind.
Where/how do you get your inspiration from?
I’ll be honest, probably 40% of it comes from different google searches that I carry on during the research phase, and the remaining percentage is all Dribbble – yeah I know, who would have thought, right? As much as some of us hate it, Dribbble was and continues to be an all-around inspiring place, and it should be, since it houses some of the most creative people out there.
As for the “getting creative” part of the question, I personally keep a local folder with different images of things that I love, and things that I would like to try out, but most of the time I keep my brain happy by drooling over stuff that some of the people that I follow have created.
Tell us about your working day. What does your creative process look like?
Well, I’m not a morning person by any means, so a usual work day starts somewhere around 11 pm or so.
The first thing that I always do is grab a fresh batch of coffee, and believe it or not, I then check my email, which, let’s face it, becomes boring really quickly. As soon as I’m up to speed up with things, I like to spend half an hour or so scrolling through my Dribbble feed to see what’s new.
When I feel ready to fully commit to my keyboard and mouse, I usually engage in a small research phase where I try to figure out all I can about the nature of my subject. Once I feel prepped, I open up ye old Illustrator and get right to it by setting up my reference grids and then drawing my initial shapes.
As you can guess, hours pass on, lots of coffee mugs get emptied, lots of songs get skipped, and at some point I get the feeling of the direction that I want to take – which is the moment we all cherish, since your face puts on a big old grin – and then I build upon multiple iterations until myself and the client are both happy.
And that’s about it I guess, nothing magical, just a normal work day that probably most of you guys experience on a regular basis.
What, in your opinion, is the best part of being an icon designer? And what is the worst?
The best part of being an icon designer? It would have to be the versatility of its nature, since you can easily adapt your skills and tools into doing anything else.
The worst part is hands down when you have to design that huge-ass pack that needs to be exported and delivered in the shortest amount of time possible.
If you had to choose just one thing–let’s call it your number one principle–that you always keep in mind when designing an icon, what would that be?
Always take your time and approach each and every icon as you would be creating them for yourself, otherwise you’ll end up doing a sloppy job. Learn and cherish your tools, and always strive to build your shapes using a combination of both a technical and an artistic point of view.
That’s about it! Hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.